Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

More Wheel of Time Drama ... and Official Announcements

As many of you know, I have been waiting (im)patiently for author Brandon Sanderson to complete the late Robert Jordan's epic fantasy series, THE WHEEL OF TIME (you can read about this here and on my left sidebar). Reading Brandon's blog keeps me apprised of his progress - he is very open with his fans - so I knew that the book was getting longer than originally expected. The publisher, Tor Books, made some announcements regarding the book yesterday and I'm dying to discuss them with someone!

Here's the official news:
  • Rather than one extremely long and unbindable book, it will be split into three separate volumes (all long as well). Fans were expecting a 2-volume book so this was a bit shocking.
  • Volume 1 will be released in Nov. '09. The following volumes will come each in Nov. '10 and Nov. '11. Fans were expecting a two-volume release with a six-month gap between.
  • A new encyclopedia will be released about a year after the final-final book.
And here are links to the announcements:
I'm not quite sure how to react to this news. At first I was angry. I mean, for months now we've been hearing that we'll get the end of the epic in 2009. And now we won't get the end until 2011!

But then I thought about it more and realized a few things.

First, I get to live in THE WHEEL OF TIME land for another few years. I've been inhabiting this world, following these characters, since the mid-1990s so the ending of the series is a huge event for me. Now I get more time with them - and that can only be a good thing.

Second, a book a year is MUCH better than Robert Jordan had done in many years (for a variety of good reasons). So I won't have to wait nearly as long as I did for the last few books.

However, this does present a problem. I've spent the last year listening to the first 11 books in the series on audio in order to prepare for the last book - I wanted everything to be fresh in my mind. And I'm also following along with's re-read of the series which is scheduled to finish just before November. All this was in preparation for the END of the series ... but now I'm only getting the BEGINNING of the end.

Oh well, I guess I should just be grateful that there will be THREE more books to enjoy, and that I can spread that enjoyment out for a few more years yet.
Any other WHEEL OF TIME fans out there want to chime in on this? Even if you're not a fan, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Has something like this every happened with a series you love?

How Exciting!

My book club choose our next book: The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I'm thrilled! I've been wanting to read this for a while now.

And get this! The author, Junot Diaz, is speaking in Baltimore at the CityLit Festival on April 18th ... and my club is going together! We're going to attend the author talk from 3-4pm then walk down to a local coffee stop to discuss the book.

Now doesn't that sound like fun?!

If any of you are in the area, you should join us for the author talk. You can read more about CityLit - and see which other authors are appearing there - at this link.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sword Song

Sword Song
by Bernard Cornwell

audio book: 13.5 hours

Bernard Cornwell writes a damn good battle scene, let me tell you! Oh ... yes ... I guess you DO need to know a bit about the book to know why that is important ...

*** About the Series ***

The Saxon Chronicles (of which this is the 4th book) are set during the days before England became one nation. It is the time of the Saxons and the Danes (aka Vikings), a time of constant raids and wars, of violence and brutality. It is also the time of Christianity's clash with the native religions.

The central story of the series is that of Uhtred, a Saxon boy raised by Danes. The story follows Uhtred's growth from young boy to hardened warrior. One of the central conflicts in each book is his divided loyalties - will he side with the Saxons or the Danes?

Another very important story in the series is that of Alfred. Alfred is the only king in British history to be given the honorific "the Great"; it was he who eventually fought off the Danes and united the various kingdoms of the English Isle. Uhtred can't stand him, yet he is forced to side with Alfred over and over again.

*** About Sword Song ***

At this point in the story Uhtred has become a wealthy Lord. He has a wife and children. And he is still stuck in the service of Alfred. The latest command to come from his despised liege-lord is the command to retake the city of London from the invading Danes. That forms the basis of this book ... but there is so much more to it than simply that!

*** My Thoughts ***

I love this series. There are so many reasons why! To make it simple I'm going to give you a random list
  • The battles: As I said at the top, Cornwell writes a damn good battle scene. If you ever imagined that living in the "old days" would be romantic or desirable in any way, Cornwell's imagery sets you straight right quick. His writing is fantastic throughout the book, but his battle scenes really shine (or maybe I should say "really bleed").

  • Religion: Uhtred's conflict with Alfred provides the focus for the larger conflict between the native religions and Christianity. I love how Cornwell presents the curiosity of the Danes regarding Christianity. In our world, even if you aren't a Christian you still know pretty much what the religion is about; but then, it was a completely foreign concept.

  • Not your typical hero: Uhtred is almost an un-hero. It really should be Alfred who is the hero - he is the one who unites England after all. But Uhtred, with all his pride, bluster, brutality, and anti-Christian view, is the one whose story we follow. He is the one we root for despite it all.

  • History: The series is based on actual events in British history. Uhtred did not exist but most of the characters he interacts with did. With him as an un-hero, we get a different but likely accurate view of major historical events.

*** The Audio Book, and other thoughts ***

I've listened to all four books in the series on audio and they are all very well done. One thing to note though - the narrator of SWORD SONG is different than the narrator of the three previous books. It threw me off for a bit because his pronunciation of many names is different. But once I got used to it I had no complaints.

Cornwell also wrote STONEHENGE which I listened to on audio (review here). I HATED that book. My complaint at the time was two-fold: it was too brutal and the narrator was horrid. I can't say anything different about that narrator at this point, but I had to rethink the brutality. I mean, I love that part of The Saxon Chronicles, so why did it bother me so much in STONEHENGE? The answer I came up with was that in the Saxon books most of the violence has to do with battles - not all of it, but most of it. In STONEHENGE there was infant sacrifice and other horrible scenes that I just didn't want to hear about. And Cornwell writes in a very realistic manner so that was simply too much for me.

Two random thoughts before I go ...

  1. I LOVE the cover of this book/audio book!
  2. I thought this was the final book in the series but it looks like there will be another in January 2010 - woohoo!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Lovely Links #13

It is time again for Lovely Links, the post where I share with you all the fun and interesting things I've found around the internet lately. This time I've broken the list into groups ... do you like it better this way? Opinions, please.

And now, the Lovely Links ...

Books & Words
  • Here's your chance to hear an ancient Greek harp-like instrument. Read the details here and be sure to click the link directly below the picture (or this link) to actually HEAR the instrument. It is amazing to think that we're listening to something the Greeks listened to ...
  • Life imitates Indiana Jones? Well, not exactly, but this scene COULD have been in one of the movies - that's for sure!
TV& Movies
Other Interesting Things
  • Are you a gardener? Then check out my local newspaper's new Garden Blog. There are tips specifically for mid-Atlantic gardeners, but I'm sure there will be great info for all gardeners as well!
  • The scrapbooker in me was THRILLED with this post about creative camera angles. These are simple tips we all can use to break away from boring photos.
  • Absolutely gorgeous artwork inspired by Tolkien and other fantasy authors. I would love to have this stuff framed in my house.

Those are my Lovely Links for today. I hope you have enjoyed checking out the things that have caught my attention recently. Happy March to you all!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Game

The Game
by Laurie R. King
368 pages

I mentioned this in my review of Justice Hall but I'll say it again here: King really know her historical settings! Her language puts the reader into the proper time period. I even learned what chilblains are - and that I definitely don't want them.

In this, the 7th Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes book, the case bring our detectives to India. This is the time of declining British control in India, the time of Gandhi, the time of the Muslim League - a very exciting and turbulent point in India's history. It's also the time of flappers and Bolsheviks ...

In addition to a vividly created setting, King brings in the title character from Rudyard Kipling's novel KIM. I admit that I've never read KIM so I had to rely on wikipedia for the basic info. But what a story she creates!

I don't quote the book flaps often but this line was so appropriate that I had to include it:
Showcasing King's masterful plotting and skill at making history leap from the page, THE GAME brings alive an India fraught with unrest and poised for change - and an unpredictable mystery with brilliance and character to match.
How can you not want to read this book after that?!

This was not one of my favorites in the MR/SH series but it was still very good.

*** Other posts so far in my Month of Joyful Reading ***

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Bean Trees

The Bean Trees
by Barbara Kingsolver
336 pages

*** The Plot ***

A young but tough gal leaves her poor Kentucky home to make a new life for herself. Along the way she ends up with a baby (not her own) and must learn how to survive in the world. Her new found home in Arizona brings different and interesting people into her world. It also presents her with choices she must make regarding how to live her life.

*** My Thoughts ***

This book is about REAL people - not people that actually exist, but people that COULD exist. The way the main character ended up with the baby wasn't quite believable to me but every other aspect of this book could be a true story. The characters are real, the dialogue is real, the situations are real. If you want an authentic story about making do with what you've got, then this is it.

On the whole I did enjoy this book, but I was expecting more from it. It was a bit unfair of me though. Another of Kingsolver's books, THE POISONWOOD BIBLE, is one of my all-time favorites and I was expecting/hoping that this book would measure up to it. It didn't. But I think that if I had read this without any prior expectations, I'd have been pleased with it.

*** My Book Club ***

This was my book club's pick for the month of March. You can read about my club's discussion at our blog here. And I'll have a post up at sometime next week with more analysis of the book and our reactions to it - I hope you'll go check it out!

Do you always have high expectations for other books by an author you love? In the past have your your expectations been met or were you disappointed?

Friday Finds 03/27/09 & Updates

Can you believe it is Friday already? At first this week seemed to drag for me, but the last few days have flown by.

Before I get to my Friday Finds and have ...

Two Quick Updates:

First - Remember this post where I told you about the recommendation I made to my best friend? She called me this week to say that she read the 2nd book I recommended too. It was also by Katherine Center and is called THE BRIGHT SIDE OF DISASTER. Stacy was raving to me about this book on the phone. According to her, the characters are completely believable - they are the people you know in real life. Sometimes she wanted to smack them, sometimes she wanted to hug them, but always she felt like she KNEW them. Stacy highly recommends this book (along with EVERYTHING IS BEAUTIFUL).

And second - I told you about my concerns about Kiddo's reading in this post. Now I'm happy to say ... Kiddo's reading is improving!!! He's been working with a tutor once a week for just over a month, and we've gotten tips on how to help him from reading specialists. This week I've spent more time having him read to me (which means we are staying up later at night, since I get home from work so late) and it really seems to be helping. He has almost conquered ARE YOU MY MOTHER? - he knows all the words and just take a few seconds to figure them out. He's also been reading some Dr. Seuss books, although those are more difficult for him. He IS getting it little by little though, and I'm thrilled.


And now, here are the books that have made it to my TBR list this week:

  1. Time Bandit: Two Brothers, the Bering Sea, and One of the World's Deadliest Jobs, by the Hillstrand Brothers - If you have ever seen "Deadlist Catch" then that title makes complete sense to you. I LOVED that show. Dreambee reminded me that I want to read this book. Be sure to hop over and watch the videos she posted from the show, especially if you've never seen it before - it is amazing!

  2. The Secret Keeper, by Paul Harris - This book, "set in war-torn Sierra Leone, tells the story of one man's search for the truth in a nation where the rules of civilized society simply don't apply." I volunteered for the June TLC Book Blog Tour for this book, so you'll definitely hear more about it then.

  3. The Odyssey, by Homer - RebeccaReads has done it again. First she convinced me to add The Iliad and now The Odyssey. Check out her post to see why. Although honestly, I will probably do these on audio (they were originally stories to be TOLD after all).

  4. Visa's for Life, by Yukiko Sugihara - A while back I learned about the children's book based on this story. It is amazing and I'm glad to know there is an adult book as well. Follow the link to Matt's Book Blog to learn more about this heroic man.

  5. Going Too Far, by Jennifer Echols - I'm not usually a fan of YA (*gasp*) but this particular book looks really good. OCD, vampires, and rants, oh my! reviews it at this link. According to the review, it has the same intensity of passion as the Twilight books ...

  6. 10 Things I Hate About Christianity, by Jason T. Berggren - Although the title is off putting, I think this might be a very good book. From what I understand, it takes some of the main complaints made by both Christians and non-Christians and tackles them head-on. I've seen this around at several blogs but Bookfoolery and Babble's review is the best one I've read so far. Go check it out to get a better idea of what this book is all about.

  7. Apologetics for a New Generation, edited by Sean McDowell - MizB says this has some great information for the current generation seeking to defend their Christian faith.

That's it for me this week ... hop over to MizB's to see what everyone else has found. Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

2009's 1% Well Read Challenge List

I've already started on this challenge - finished one book in fact - and I haven't even announced that I'm joining. It is high time to remedy that.

Below is my list for the 1% Well Read Challenge 2009. You can learn more about the challenge or sign up yourself at this website:

My preliminary list, subject to change at any time ...

  1. The Castle of Otranto, by Horace Walpole (reviewed here)

  2. Evelina, by Frances Burney (reading now)

  3. An Interesting Narrative, by Olaudah Equiano

  4. The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe

  5. Castle Rackrent, by Maria Edgeworth

  6. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley

  7. The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper

  8. The Charterhouse of Parma, by Stendhal

  9. The Lion of Flanders, by H. Conscience

  10. Cranford, by Elizabeth Gaskell
All of these titles are from the 1700s and 1800s. I figured I'd go for a theme this year - really old books!

Are you participating this year? How did you choose which books you plan to read?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Justice Hall

Justice Hall
by Laurie R. King
352 pages

I LOVE the way King pulls so much history into the Mary Russell mysteries - it is almost like reading historical fiction!

Ok, so ... this is the 6th book in the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series. This particular book deals with English inheritance law, World War I trench warfare and battlefield (in)justice, and it also brings back two characters from the 5th book, O JERUSALEM.

As with most of the other books in this series, the case doesn't really begin to develop until the 2nd half of the book (but of course, that is how things go in real life - you often don't know exactly what it is your are looking into and then suddenly things begin coming together*). The middle of the book is where it got REALLY interesting for me - I couldn't put it down and read until way too late at night.

Need I say that I really enjoyed this book? I've already started on the next book in the series - can't wait to see what happens next!

*** Other posts so far in my Month of Joyful Reading ***

*As I wrote this I realized that Laurie's books reflect her writing process very clearly. You can read about how she writes here - then tell me you don't see a correlation.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What's on your nightstand? March '09

I always enjoy this monthly activity over at 5 Minutes for Books. For one thing, it helps me organize all the books I'm currently reading. But more importantly, I get to see what everyone else is reading (or putting off reading) ... and then I don't feel so bad.

Since I don't actually HAVE a nightstand I'll share the books that are scattered throughout my life, and I'll tell you where they are - just like I do every month. Here goes!

*** My Carry-Along Book ***

The Game, by Laurie R. King - I'm working my way through the entire Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series this month and I'm currently on this one, book 6. I've only just started it but it looks to be quite good! This book goes with me wherever I go.

*** In My Car ***

Sword Song (audio book), by Bernard Cornwell - This is the 4th book in the Saxon Chronicles series. I don't want to get out of the car when I'm listening to it. I'm about halfway through the cassettes at this point.

*** In the Bathroom ***

Evelina: or The History of a Young Lady's Entrance into the World, by Fanny Burney - Great title, huh? This was originally published in 1778. I have high hopes for it ... but I've only just started so I can't say much more than that.

*** In My Office at Work ***

The Leviathan Chronicles (podcast), by Cristof Laputka - This is sort of like an enhanced audio book. I've been listening whenever I can at work. The first 17 chapters have been released so far (there will be 50 chapters total) and a new chapter comes out every 10 days. You can check it out - and start listening! - at this website:

*** On My Desk ***

Red Rain, by Tim Wendel - I started this WWII novel a while ago but it didn't really capture my attention at the time. I've put it aside for now but I do intend to finish it next month. It is based on a little-known story about the Japanese use of hot-air-balloon bombs that they sent across the ocean to the US West Coast.

*** Accusing Me from My Coffee Table ***

Receive Me Falling, by Erika Robuck - I first told you about this book here when I met the author prior to the book's publication. She recently hand-delivered a signed copy of the book and I can't wait to read it. BUT I have other books that I've committed to first so it will have to wait (it really doesn't WANT to wait though) ... In the meantime, you should check out the book at her website and let me know what you think!

There is another book next to this one on my coffee table ...

The Bean Trees, by Barbara Kingsolver - This is my book club's pick for this month. Our meeting is Thursday. I've finished the book but I haven't written my review yet (hence the accusing stare from the book). But you should see it pop up in a few days, so I don't feel all that guilty. Really. Not guilty at all. Um ... yeah ...


That is what is on "my nightstand" this month. Be sure to hop over here to see what everyone else is sharing - and join in the fun if you like!

Monday, March 23, 2009

A great friend

From time to time I come across a book review on one of your blogs and think "this isn't the book for me, but XXX would really enjoy this!" When that happens I email that particular friend and tell her about the book, and that is usually the end of it ... but not this time.

A while back I read this post by author Katherine Center. I had never heard of her, but her books sounded like perfect matches for several of my friends who are new moms. So I emailed them the titles and a bit about the books (EVERYTHING IS BEAUTIFUL and THE BRIGHT SIDE OF DISASTER) and promptly forgot all about it.

Last week I got an email from my best friend, Stacy. We've been best friends since age 4, and even though we don't see each other as much as we'd like (just a few times a year) we still email/talk whenever possible. Her message was a quick one-liner: I just finished reading Everything is Beautiful and I loved it - thanks!

What?! I immediately emailed her back: Wow! You actually read it - that's great! I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

Her reply came quickly: As soon as you told me about it I requested it from the library. I always trust whatever you recommend.

*smile* Now THAT is a great friend. I can't believe that I never knew she took me so seriously. I'm feeling pretty good about myself right now.

There was a review of EVERYTHING IS BEAUTIFUL posted recently at this site (and there's a chance to win a copy for yourself as well). Hop over and take a look at it, and be sure to watch the book trailer. I'd love to know what you think about it.

I also want to know ... do you recommend books to friends? What about books you haven't read? Do your friends ever read what you recommend? What have their responses been?

The Castle of Otranto

The Castle of Otranto
by Horace Walpole
128 pages

first published in 1764

According to Wikipedia, this book "is generally regarded as the first Gothic novel, and it was indeed the first novel to describe itself by that term. Castle is thus generally credited with initiating the Gothic literary genre, one that would become extremely popular in the later 18th century and early 19th century."

At the time of it's original publication, this book would have come across as very mysterious and foreboding. It includes mysterious deaths, the reappearance of long-lost relatives, visions, superstitions, unrequited love, and lots more. Add that to the old-fashioned language and you end up with a story that would come across as a parody of Gothic lit if you didn't know that this was the tale that started it all.

I really enjoyed reading this brief story, but to be honest ... it made me laugh. I know it wasn't supposed to be funny but it was SO over-the-top that I just couldn't help myself. As I read the dialogue between the lord of the manor and the knights, I kept thinking of the Monty Python knights and especially this scene.

AND THEN! A new knight arrived, The Knight of the Gigantic Sabre, and I could only think of this scene from Robin Hood: Men in Tights (scroll ahead to time marker 1:23 and you'll see what I'm talking about). What was supposed to have been a serious confrontation was completely ruined by that image - but ruined in a fun way!

It may not seem like it, but I really did enjoy this book. It was an easy read, not spectacular but definitely enjoyable.

I chose this book from the 1,001 Books list for the 1% Well Read Challenge '09. If you are still looking for books for this challenge, you should try this one out. It is a quick read, and you will definitely get a better understanding of the origins of Gothic lit tropes (and you might even get a laugh out of it).

Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday Finds 03/20/09

Happy Spring to all!

As I do every Friday, I'm sharing with you the list of books that "somehow" made their way onto my TBR list this week ... and boy, did I come across some good ones!

My List:
  • Doreen, by Barbara Noble - the story of what happened to the children of the Blitz, the German attack on London during WWII, when they were sent off to live with other families "for the duration" ... and what happened AFTER the war was over. I heard about it here.
  • Picking Cotton, by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino and Ronald Cotton - Booking Mama posted the video below on her blog and it stopped me in my tracks. You simply MUST watch this - it is incredible. It's less than three minutes long, so I do hope you take those few minutes to watch it.

  • A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian, by Marina Lewycka - I've heard of this book for a long time but Trish's review finally convinced me that I had to read it.
  • Silk, by Alessandro Barrico - this short book, review by Hey Lady!, tells the story of a silk merchant's journey to Japan and the woman he discovers there
And there's one movie I've added to my list, based on a recommendation at the War Through the Generations Challenge blog:
  • I Have Never Forgotten You: The Life and Legacy of Simon Wiesenthal - the review of this true story about the effects of WWII says:
This was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. Sorrow was not only a daily companion, but an essential part of the man he became. He made room for it in his life; he didn't try to deny its existence or keep it locked up in the cellar of his soul. His eyes welled up often. He was a grief-carrier, and the grace with which he carried his grief is truly a thing of beauty. He was warm and jovial, a joke maker and a story teller. And his smile...his smile melted my heart.
If you aren't moved by that ... I don't know what to say to you.


Kiddo's TBR list has been neglected lately but this week I'm making up for it.

Kiddo's List:
  • Boris Ate A Thesaurus, by Neil Steven Klayman - a book about words ... and boy, does Kiddo LOVE using new and different words - I heard about it here.

  • Lighthouse Dog to the Rescue, by Angeli Perrow - the true story of a heroic dog ... Kiddo will LOVE this - I heard about it at Bookish Ruth.

  • two book of old Irish stories - both reviewed at Lionden Landing - Kiddo already loves Irish music and hearing about Ireland (that's where my Gram is from) so these are perfect for him

Those are my lists for this week ... hop over to MizB's to see what everyone else found.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

G&R Book Club: People of the Book

Last night I attended the first book club meeting held by local bookstore Greetings & Readings. The book was one I absolutely loved: People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks. You can read my review of it here.

This was the very first time the store has hosted a book club and I have to give them credit for putting on a nice event. They had about 30 people attend (mostly women with a few men sprinkled in), they served coffee and desserts, and the meeting lasted for an hour. I met a lovely woman named Kathy (hi Kathy!) while I was there. Hopefully she and I can meet for dinner before one of the next meetings ...

The woman who lead the discussion started off with a presentation. She talked about what a Haggadah is, what the Jewish Seder is, and also gave some background info on the real Sarajevo Haggadah and author Geraldine Brooks.

The presentation was both good and bad. For people who were unfamiliar with Jewish traditions, this was very enlightening (but I already knew most of what she talked about). Also, because I was so interested in the book, I had done a bit of research on the Sarajevo Haggadah ... so I already knew all the facts she shared about it. The same goes for the author; there was no new info for me.

I do realize that I was probably more prepared than most people at the meeting so I can't fault her presentation for it's content. However, it took 30 minutes - half of the entire meeting time. That's a bit long in my opinion.

On the good side, she did present some info that I did NOT know ...

I'm sure we're all familiar with the standard structure of a novel that we learned in school.

As the diagram shows, the plot builds up to a climax then descends to the denouement or resolution.

However, postmodern novels generally fit a different format. She called it an "amoeba plot".

That point on the left is the start of the story. It focuses on one character. Each "bubble" in the storyline is a subplot, almost a separate story within the story. The straight line connecting to the bottom of the point on the left is the original plot revisited. The original story is picked up almost where it left off, with little or no change in the original character.

That structure fits this novel perfectly, and I loved learning something new!

When we finally got to the actual discussion, I was quite happy. Luckily not all of the 30 people present felt the need to speak, otherwise we'd have been there all night. But several people did share their thoughts. Here's a list of some of the sometimes contradictory points raised:
  • Hanna's character was not as fully developed as the characters in the other stories
  • Hanna's mother was not a believable character
  • Hanna's mother was very realistic - she reminded one member of her own mother
  • the Haggadah itself is the main character of the story, everything else is merely background
  • the central theme of the book is the creation of non-traditional families (I heartily agreed with this, once I understood what this woman was getting at)
  • the plot structure is very much like The Da Vinci Code (oh how I hated that book!)
I think the discussion could have gone on much longer but by then our hour was up.

The group will meet again next month to discuss The Camel Bookmobile. I won't be attending, because the store is about an hour from my office (I had to go directly from work to make it on time). However, I will consider attending again if they are discussing a book I particularly want to read.

Oh, and they asked me to consider leading one of upcoming club events ... I'll have to think about that one.

Book Exchange?

My cousin sent me a "book exchange chain letter" that, of course, I'm supposed to send on to 6 more people. So I figured I'd see if any of you wanted to get in on the fun.

It is a simple idea and if everyone participates it could be really interesting. In order to take part, you have to be willing to mail one used book to someone and also to pass the letter/book request on to 6 more people.

I'm happy to give you more details if you want them - just let me know.

If you are interested in participating, post a comment and I'll contact you to get your mailing address.

UPDATE: When it rains, it pours. I got to work today and a coworker gave me the exact same letter but this time it is for children's books. So when you comment let me know if you are interested in the adult books or the kids books.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Author Guest Post: Laurie R. King

Please welcome Laurie R. King, author of (among other things) the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes books that I've been raving about all month.

A bit about Laurie ...
Laurie R. King is the Edgar award winning, New York Times bestselling author of the Mary Russell series of historical mysteries, the modern police series of Kate Martinelli, and a number of standalones. Her web site ( is celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of The Beekeeper's Apprentice as well as the new The Language of Bees with its project "Fifteen Weeks of Bees."
Laurie was kind enough to give me an interview earlier this month and now she's back with a guest post that I find fascinating ... enjoy!


Any relationship needs a dash of spice from time to time, to keep things lively.

Take my characters. I’ve been living with these people for twenty-two years, nine books, a couple of short stories—well over a million words. I was at their 1915 meeting on the Sussex Downs, and I watched over their 1924 return to Sussex. I’ve traveled beside them while they trekked with Bedouin through the deserts of Palestine (modern day Israel) and hunted Kipling’s Kim in the foothills of the Himalayas. I even straddled three chronologies for a trip to San Francisco, during, after and further after the 1906 quake and fire. (In, respectively, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice; The Language of Bees [publication date April 28]; O Jerusalem; The Game; and Locked Rooms.

More than time or location, however, I’ve followed along on their growth. In 1915, Mary Russell was a brash and defensive 15 year old orphan with neither family nor home; now she is a self-assured adult who knows where she is going in life, and occasionally even sees how to get there. And Sherlock Holmes: When Arthur Conan Doyle abandoned him on the brink of the Great War (in “His Last Bow,” set in August 1914), Holmes was fading, just as the Empire whose values he fought to maintain was fading around him.

Conan Doyle never did grapple with what Holmes might have become in the utterly transformed England that followed the war. In all the Holmes stories published after 1918, Sir Arthur wrote exclusively of Holmes before the guns of August started up.

Not so the Holmes who meets Mary Russell. Under the influence of this young woman, Holmes could grow in ways that Conan Doyle would neither have conceived nor, I imagine, have tolerated.

I did not set out to liberate Sherlock Holmes from his creator. I set out to write about a young, female, feminist, modern version of Holmes, one who is the more interesting for coming into contact with the original.

However, I can’t imagine the purpose of a series in which the characters do not change. If one of the earmarks of a good novel is the logical character development between the beginning and the end, then all the more necessary is that development over the wider arc of a series. Yes, there are fine and fun series in which the protagonist in number twenty is identical to the person in number one, in which the conflict, injury, loss, and triumph of nineteen consecutive volumes fades away as soon as the next opens, but I personally cannot write that kind of series. Boredom with the task would drive me to divorce, if not outright murder.

Hence the need for spice.

When I start a new book in a series, whether it’s a Russell or a Martinelli (and possibly, a new series out of the Touchstone characters), what I want to know from the beginning is what new thing I’m going to find out about them, how this book will explore something different from all the others. It doesn’t have to be profound or all-encompassing, just something that interests me, from Russell’s religious beliefs (A Monstrous Regiment of Women) to the redefinition of the British aristocracy in the twentieth century (Justice Hall.)

The last Russell/Holmes novel found the duo in San Francisco, where Russell was forced to confront a past she had hidden from herself, and where our apparently infallible narrator was suddenly revealed (to herself as well as the reader) to be entirely fallible, even deluded, when it came to what she thought she knew about herself. She came away from Locked Rooms satisfyingly (to the writer, at any rate, if not to poor Russell) changed.

And now in the current book, Russell and Holmes are returning home to Sussex in the summer of 1924, following eight months on the road. And naturally, they don’t even manage to walk through their door before another transformative case presents itself.

This time, the spice I chose came from a pair of passing references made back in the second Russell novel, A Monstrous Regiment of Women. First, Russell meets a shell-shocked young officer and mentions that “something in his hands reminded me of Holmes, and of Holmes’ lovely, lost son.”

Later in the book, when she is trying to bully Holmes into helping this young officer (and in the process, leaving her alone) she demands (and then reflects):
“And if he were your son? Would you not want someone to try?” It was a dirty blow, low and unscrupulous and quite unforgivably wicked. Because, you see, he did have a son once, and someone had tried.

Perhaps not everyone would regard the appearance of a long-lost illegitimate son as being spice for a relationship, but without a doubt, it is spice for a novel.

And I’m sorry, but having whetted your appetite to find how this particular situation turns out, you’ll have to wait until The Language of Bees is published at the end of April to know.

Perhaps, indeed, hunger is the best spice.


Thank you, Laurie, for dropping by yet again. I hope all my readers enjoyed hearing from you as much as I did.

A big thank you to all of you who are here for the first time as well (following the link on Laurie's blog). Feel free to poke around a bit and know you are welcome back any time.

For more info about Laurie - and to check out her US book tour dates - please visit her website: I'm exciting to say that she'll be coming to Baltimore in May ... and you can bet that I'll be there to meet her!

*** Other posts so far in my Month of Joyful Reading ***

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

People of the Book

People of the Book
by Geraldine Brooks
audio book: 13.93 hours

Amazing. This audio book was simply amazing. It is the best recorded book that I have listened to in quite some time. And what makes it even better is that parts of this story are based on fact.

*** The Plot ***

Australian book conservator Hanna Heath is called to Eastern Europe to help study and conserve the Sarajevo Haggadah, a 600-year old Jewish prayer book. This particular Haggadah is unlike any other in existence because it includes gorgeous painted illustrations and that goes against Jewish belief.

While working on the book Hanna discovers a butterfly wing, a wine stain, a white hair, and several other clues. Each of her discoveries pushes the storyline back farther in time, providing vignettes in the life of the Haggadah. The story makes stops in World War II, 19th century Venice, the Inquisition, Spain in the 1300s, and more.

The book is factually based! There really is a Sarajevo Haggadah (read about it here) and some of the stories Brooks tells in this book are based on the its known history. Brooks has an amazing connection to the Haggadah as she was able to see it being examined just as her character Hanna examines it in PEOPLE OF THE BOOK.

*** My Thoughts ***

I absolutely LOVED this book. I've already lent the CDs to my sister and as soon as she returns them I am going to listen to it again. I can't believe I let this sit on my shelf so long! This is definitely a keeper. That is very uncommon for me but I know I'll be lending it out to friends and family and I know I'll listen to it again and again.

Hanna's story is only the tip of the iceberg. There are so many parts to the Haggadah's history! As I listened, I had to keep reminding myself that these aren't stories that Hanna will ever learn; we as readers/listeners know much more than she ever will.

My favorite of the historical stories is the oldest one. If you've read PEOPLE OF THE BOOK, which story was your favorite?

The fact that the story is based in part on real events is a huge draw for me. It makes the rest of the stories so much more interesting, knowing that some of these things did really happen, and that other could have ... oh I just LOVE books like this, especially when they are well written (as this one is).

A quick note about the audio version: The narrator of the book has a wonderful range of voices. She was able to create many different characters with a variety of accents, all in a believable way. Her talent made this an excellent audio book.

*** Miscellaneous ***

I nominated this book for my book club to read but they voted it down. Regardless, I still purchase the Bookclub-in-a-Box Guide because I wanted it for myself (I previously used their guide for THE POISONWOOD BIBLE and it was extremely helpful). As soon as I finished the book I devoured the guide, and that is where I learned that this book is factually based. I had no clue while I was reading it! The guide had lots of other fascinating info as well. [Here I will insert a plug for Bookclub-in-a-Box: They have fantastic guides that really add a lot to your understanding of a book. I highly recommend trying them out even if you aren't in a book club.]

A local book/stationary/gift store is hosting their first book club on Wednesday to discuss this book. I'm planning to drive the 45 minutes to the store after work so I can attend - this is one of those books that just begs to be discussed! I'll give you a report on how it goes later this week.

Oh, and one more thing. If you are anywhere near Lexington, Massachusetts, Geraldine Brooks will be in your area on March 21. I would SO love to meet this woman - this is the 2nd book of hers that I have read, and I think she is amazing.

Monday, March 16, 2009

O Jerusalem

O Jerusalem
by Laurie R. King
425 pages

In this 5th Sherlock Holmes/Mary Russell adventure, we go back in time a few years. While working on the major case in THE BEEKEEPER'S APPRENTICE (the 1st book in the series), Holmes and Russell took a work-related trip to the Middle East. What exactly they did there was glossed over in that book ... and now we get the details.

*** The Plot ***

Holmes's brother Mycroft, who is something of a spymaster for the British government, has a task for Holmes and Russell. There is something going on in and around Jerusalem that Mycroft thinks needs some extra attention. That's all we know at the start of the book - and that is all Holmes and Russell know as well. Oh, and we also know that Russell is Jewish and that she's always wanted to visit the Holy Land.

*** My Thoughts ***

The case develops very slowly this time, as our main characters need to adapt to a new culture and gain the trust of the people they are working with. The different pace worked well for me - I enjoyed the cultural immersion, myself.

This book contains one of the most humorous favorite conversations between Holmes and Russell so far. I don't have the book in front of me so I can quote directly but the situation is like this:
Holmes's back has been seriously injured so he can't get around like he usually does. While exploring some dank, dark, and cramped underground passages, Russell continually has to climb into crevices, down tunnels, etc. Holmes remarks in an amused manner that he should have thought of this earlier, having a young apprentice around to do all the dirty work.
Ok, it doesn't sound so funny at the moment but it fits in so well with the rest of the book and it really IS funny at the time.

I read a review somewhere (sorry, can't remember whose it was) where the blogger said she didn't like this book as much because it went back to a time before Holmes and Russell's relationship developed. For her, the interaction wasn't as pleasing as in other books. This didn't bother me at all, but I think it is because I'm reading the books one after the other long after they were published. If I had been waiting for a new book to come out, anticipating the developments in the main characters' relationship, I would possibly have been disappointed when things seemed to be going backwards. But like I said, this didn't bother me at all, and I loved knowing what happened during those weeks that were glossed over in the first book.

*** My One Complaint ***

My only complaint - and this goes for all the SH/MR books, but I've just noticed it - is the abruptness of the endings. King's standard format seems go like this:
build up the case ... throw in red herrings ... tension ... Tension ... TENSION ... CLIMAX! ... the end ... brief epilogue
That formula is not necessarily a bad thing, but the speed with which the end of the book follows the climax of the case is a bit disconcerting to me. I'd like a bit more explanation of other characters' reactions to the case's solution, more info on the bad guy, etc. By no means does this ruin the book for me though - I have quite enjoyed each one in the series so far.

*** Other posts so far in my Month of Joyful Reading ***
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